Pułtusk - The Collegiate Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Pułtusk
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Pułtusk - The Collegiate Church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary

Pułtusk

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The collegiate church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, positioned at the end of the northern frontage of the Pułtusk market square, is a building with an exceptional historical, architectural and artistic value, being one of the most impressive and best-preserved sacred structures of the Renaissance period.

The church’s history traces its roots back to the first half of the 15th century. It was during that period that, in connection with the establishment of the collegiate chapter in Pułtusk, a single-nave church, designed in the late Gothic style, was constructed in 1439–1449 on the initiative of Płock Bishop Paweł Giżycki who also provided the funds for its construction. The church featured a four-bay main body and a two-bay unseparated chancel. Shortly afterwards, the gradual process of extension of the church began that lasted for centuries. First, to the end of the 15th century, three pairs of side chapels, featuring stellar vaults inside, were erected along both sides of the nave. In the early 16th century, on Bishop Erazm Ciołek’s initiative, the church received a pair of front towers and a bell tower.

After 1546, the entire collegiate church was thoroughly redesigned in the Renaissance style on the initiative of Płock Bishop Andrzej Noskowski, who entrusted the works to the workshop of Giovanni Battista of Venice, who had made a name for himself by redesigning the cathedral in Płock. The works resulted in the upward extension of the walls of the nave and the chancel, and their lengthening by two bays each, and closing with a three-sided end section. A set of massive pillars interconnected by a series of arches was constructed to provide support for a barrel vault adorned with faux coffers made of brick headers projecting ahead of the surface of vault cells. The walls between the existing side chapels were demolished, thus transforming the church from a single- nave into a three-nave structure; a vaulted sacristy with chapter house and oratory on the first-floor level was also added, as was a new porch and a pair of towers positioned alongside the western facade. Following the completion of construction works, the interior of the church was gradually being decorated with wall paintings from 1551 onwards. The finishing touch which culminated the Renaissance redesign of the church was the construction of the tomb chapel of Bishop Noskowski in 1553–1554, located at the eastern end of the southern nave. The chapel featured a centred design and was covered by an umbrella-shaped cupola ceiling, its walls adorned with trompe l’oeil wall paintings incorporating both figural and ornamental motifs; two notable designs incorporated into spandrel walls featured a portrayal of the Judgement Day and the Conversion of St Paul, their authors being most likely Wojciech and Stanisław Pieczonek from Warsaw.

In 1613, the collegiate church was gutted by fire, which was followed by restoration efforts during which the roof truss and cladding were replaced, the main nave windows were bricked up and a new, Baroque western gable was added. It probably also during that period that the surviving Renaissance painted decorations adorning the nave and the chancel were concealed beneath a new layer of plaster. The church suffered further damage in the course of the Swedish Deluge. During the 18th century, the collegiate church received new, uniformly designed interior fittings in the Baroque style, comprising the main altarpiece, the boatshaped pulpit, a choir stall in the chancel, a set of monumental epitaph plaques as well as two side altarpieces, the latter surviving to the present day. The walls of the chapel located inside the southern tower were covered with Dutch ceramic tiles with cobalt decoration. In 1832–1835, the collegiate church was partially restored on the basis of the inventory prepared by architect Wincenty Zieliński, with additional porches being added to both side aisles on the northern and southern sides of the building. Another thorough restoration of the church, performed under the direction of eminent architect Stefan Szyller and sculptor Zygmunt Otto, took place in 1909–1910. In the 20th century, the collegiate church was heavily damaged during the floods which wrought havoc across the town of Pułtusk in 1958 and 1979. Following the latter, a long-term process of conservation and restoration of the church and its furnishings has begun. During the architectural research of the vaulted ceiling above the main nave and the chancel performed in 1994, a number of Renaissance painted decorations concealed underneath numerous layers of paint for many centuries have been discovered. In the wake of this spectacular finding, comprehensive conservation works were performed in 1994–2008, allowing the Renaissance polychrome decorations to be brought back to their original appearance. The original tiled floor inside the church was also disassembled and then put back into place.

The collegiate church of the Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary in Pułtusk is currently a conglomerate of architectural and artistic styles originating from various periods and created by various architects and craftsmen, having underwent a series of extension and alteration works over the centuries. The surviving remnants of the original, 15th-century church, designed in the Late Gothic style, include the period stellar vaults inside the side aisles, brick architectural detailing as well as parts of the interior furnishings. However, it is mostly the preserved features added in the course of the comprehensive Renaissance redesign from the mid-16th century which contribute towards the outstanding architectural and artistic value of the church. The defining feature of the lavish Renaissance interior decor is the set of recently discovered period painted decorations incorporating both heraldic themes and ornamental and foliate decorations. These wall and ceiling paintings, executed in a mixed technique (al fresco and al secco), now hold the title of the largest surviving polychrome decorations from the Renaissance period anywhere in Poland. These decorations are supplemented by the trompe l’oeil frescoes preserved inside the tomb chapel dedicated to Bishop Andrzej Noskowski, which form one of the earliest examples of a design intended to reproduce the features of the tomb chapel of King Sigismund I the Old, located at the Wawel Royal Castle. Meanwhile, the epitaph plaque dedicated to Bishop Paweł Giżycki, created back in 1510 and embedded in the northern wall of the chancel, remains the very first example of a Renaissance-era commemorative feature of this kind in Mazovia.

In addition to the Renaissance elements of the church decor, the building also boasts an original structural solution introduced when Giovanni Battista of Venice’s workshop redesigned the collegiate church, and added the massive pillars to the existing nave; interconnected by a series of arches and featuring an additional mid-level horizontal band designed to bear the weight of the upper arcaded section, these pillars were designed to support an elongated, monumental barrel vault terminating with a conch-shaped semidome at the eastern end. This type of structure, inspired by the solutions applied at the time in Lombardy and the Venetian Domini di Terraferma (Padua and Vicenza), has even received a unique designation among Polish researchers, being called the “Pułtusk system”, or the “Pułtusk-style umbrella vault”. The solution first used at the collegiate church in Pułtusk was subsequently copied in other buildings erected by the workshop of Giovanni Battista of Venice in Mazovia – in the parish churches at Brochow, Brok, and Cieksyn as well as in the now-defunct church of St George in the New Town district of Warsaw.

The unquestionable tangible value of the collegiate church in Pułtusk is matched by its immense significance in terms of intangible heritage. Ever since its foundation, the church remained the second most important place of worship in the Płock diocese, preceded only by the Płock cathedral. At the same time, it also remained one of the three churches of such status in all historical Mazovia, while in 1975 it was also accorded the title of a minor basilica. This immense historical importance is evidenced, among others, by the fact that the church became the final resting place of a number of Płock bishops: Paweł Giżycki (d. 1463), Kazimierz III of Płock, from the house of Mazovian Dukes (d. 1480), Rafał Leszczyński (d. 1527), Andrzej Noskowski (d. 1567), and then Ludwik Bartłomiej Załuski (d. 1721), Jozef Eustachy Szembek (d. 1758), and Hieronim Antoni Szeptycki (d. 1773). The foundation of the collegiate chapter in the mid- 15th century allowed the town to flourish in spiritual, economic and cultural terms, partially due to the involvement of those bishops of Płock who subscribed to the humanist ideals, namely Erazm Ciołek (1504–1522), Wojciech Baranowski (1591–1607) and, in particular, Andrzej Noskowski (1546–1567), whose rule left the most lasting tangible mark not just on the collegiate church itself, but also on the entire historical space of the surrounding town.

General information

  • Type: ecclesiastical complex
  • Chronology: 1439 - 1449
  • Form of protection: Historical Monument
  • Address: Pułtusk
  • Location: Voivodeship mazowieckie, district pułtuski, commune Pułtusk - miasto
  • Source: National Heritage Board of Poland

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